I’ve waited far too long to post this, perhaps because I had another identity crisis when I sat down to write it. I’ve written a few “reviews” of writing projects on this blog, all of which have been positive. And I realize that when you are writing 100% positive reviews, you are not so much a reviewer or a critic and more of a promoter.
And when I read back through previous Amazon reviews, I see that I am no critic. That’s probably because when I love a book enough to write about it, I am not critical. I am in love. I loved Drew Banks’s first two novels and MJ Hahn’s amazing podcast. I wrote about them and called what I wrote reviews.
But they are not reviews; they are love letters! The Sexy Grammarian is not a critic. She is a teacher. And a lover.
So, I now sit with pen in hand (yes, I do draft most of my blog posts in ink) to write a well-deserved love letter to the incredible and beautiful book, Leaving India by Minal Hajratwala.
Every family should have a Minal, a member who records the family story with involved passion that can only come from the inside of a family but also sits back and observes, to give us a journalistic, even critical view. She tells the story of her extended family and its scattering of people and how that fits into the greater diaspora from India to all over the world.
Minal’s writing lilts and then reports, questions and then critiques. She is a romance writer, historian, gossip, academic, and researcher, all at once. Perhaps that’s why her book has been nominated for both a Lambda Literary Award and a California Book Award.
At one point there were four copies of this book on my shelf:
- one for my cousin, a writer who has plans to write about our family
- one for my mother, who loves to study our family’s genealogy
- one for my wife, who kept stealing my own copy before I’d finished it
- my own treasured copy, purchased from and signed by the author—her inscription encouraged my own writing.
But it’s the copy on my shelf reserved for my mother that worried me. Before I picked up my copy of Leaving India, I heard controversy about the “sexy chapter,” that critics had complained that Minal snuck some lesbian sex into the pages of her otherwise serious, journalistic endeavor.
In spite of my disgust with a literary world that thinks sexy = not serious, I worried about my mother reading the chapter about Minal, the sexy chapter. “Here is a book about family history, Mom. Oh and watch out for the lesbian sex toward the end.”
But when I read it I knew this story would not be new to Mom. This chapter of lesbian love, laid out like a collection of tiny, precious poems, tells the tale of heartbroken parents with papers in their hands—papers that told them, your daughter has become something you fear.
And that story would not isolate my mother but bond her even more deeply to the whole picture of this delicious book. She’s been through that, even if she hasn’t been exposed to this particular picture of diaspora, of family, and of change.
Incidentally, I post this love letter to Leaving India just as Minal prepares to help launch Indivisible, the first anthology of South Asian American poetry. You can catch her tomorrow night, reading poetry from the book at The Green Arcade, 1680 Market Street @Gough, San Francisco. (415) 431-6800. I hope to see you there.